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Ingrid Collie: The Happiness Cure

From preschools to medical and law schools and businesses to retirement homes and convents, one source brings light in a seemingly dark world: Ingrid, the collie and therapy dog.

Over the last two years, Ingrid Collie has become a mainstay at various functions like charities, award ceremonies, dinners, and even concerts, bringing happiness to people of all ages and occupations.

Ingrid would not be a source of jubilation if it were not for her owner. John DeSantis, who has been with Ingrid every step of the way.

DeSantis, a geometry high school teacher at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown since the early 2000s, was eager to embark on certifying Ingrid as a therapy dog, understanding the importance of the mission.

“We are trying to bring a little extra to whatever the situation may be,” DeSantis said.

It all started in August 2019, with DeSantis moving from administration, where he served as vice principal for 15 years back into the classroom. DeSantis wanted more than just a job change; he wanted a companion. And Ingrid was the one.

DeSantis knew becoming a therapy dog was convoluted and was well aware it would take a rare breed to pass the numerous tests to become a certified therapy dog. However, as soon as he adopted Ingrid, DeSantis knew she was different.

“The dog that I wanted to do it with, wasn’t going to pass. So, when I got Ingrid I saw just how special she was, so I thought I could do this.” DeSantis said.

Ingrid, now 6, did not need to know tricks or be a circus dog but had to master an extensive skill set that included tasks from sitting to more complicated tasks like learning to leave certain items alone.

“If a patient drops medication on the floor the dog might think it’s a treat. So the dog goes to eat it. Now they’ve got the problem,” DeSantis explained.

Getting Ingrid up to snuff required surgical procedures for her teeth and four arduous months of trips to the vet getting boosters up to date.  Once she was cleared for training, DeSantis brought Ingrid to a trainer at PetCo to see if she had what it took to be a therapy dog. “ She was calm, and she liked people, and she was good with other dogs, and she seemed to be pretty smart,” DeSantis said.

In December 2019, training finally began. Although DeSantis knew what he wanted, he admits he was not always sure of himself.

“I didn’t know what I was doing to a certain extent. I knew what the goal was, but how to get there was a little tricky,” DeSantis said.

Training started with the basic commands such as sit, with courses lasting around six weeks. Ingrid received the American Kennel Club Good Citizenship Test. Then COVID hit, putting a halt to the certification process, which DeSantis saw as an opportunity to work on the collie’s skillset.

Coming out of the pandemic, Ingrid passed the other certificates on the first try, improving her status as a therapy dog. Eighteen months and five certificates later, Ingrid could pay her first visit to Radnor Middle School.

“Any therapy dog is a special dog because they have to be able to do all these behaviors. They’ve earned their status,” DeSantis said.

Throughout his trips to the training centers, DeSantis saw various therapy animals like cats and bunnies. However, the most noticeable was a therapy alligator down in Florida.

“I don’t know that I would do that, and still hope to have all 10 fingers,” DeSantis laughed.

Aside from the alligator, therapy dogs require more testing than cats, which has to be handled and not scratch.  Not all tests were easy for Ingrid, as she particularly struggled with the “separation test.”

“Being away from me for three minutes was torture for her. She almost didn’t pass that test,” DeSantis said.

These tests were used to ensure Ingrid knew to sit and stay, despite major distractions.

“A lot can go wrong on a visit. If there is a heart attack on the floor, Ingrid has to anticipate these unexpected events,” DeSantis said.

Though Ingrid Collie brings joy to all of her visitors no matter the setting, DeSantis says she has a particular impact on seniors, who, for some, Ingrid is their only visitor. DeSantis also remembers the beautifully written thank you notes he received from a special education class.

Ingrid’s most inspiring moment came during a visit to a senior who said, “What a pretty Collie!” The nurses were stunned at what had just happened. The woman had just pronounced her first coherent words in years, as Ingrid had rekindled good memories from her childhood. “That woman does not normally speak, and Ingrid triggered something in her to have her speak,” DeSantis said.

Ingrid can inject hope into people of all ages and occupations when they need it most. “It’s just a gift to have her, and it’s a gift to bring all this happiness to a lot of people,” DeSantis said.

“I have had collies all my life, and Ingrid is special,” said DeSantis.

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